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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

PLANET KOOPER

I've avoided retorting to Al Kooper for a long time, but on November 10th he published an absurdly agitated article in the Boston Herald newspaper. I wrote a shorter and calmer response as a letter to the paper. Yesterday they printed less than half of it (without saying it had been cut). So with apologies to those who find disputation tedious, here is the full letter I'd sent. They cut everything after the Suze Rotolo sentence. I didn't mind the pruning out of the review quotes, but I think it's contemptible that they didn't have the balls to print the last paragraph:

After lambasting my book The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia on his website, Al Kooper attacked it again in your paper last week ('Gray's Atrocity', Nov. 10). Instead of calming down, his agitation seems to be on the increase. He calls my book "poorly researched garbage" that has "defiled" his name and claims my entry on him is a "rant" This is rich from a man whose article is nothing but a rant.

First, Kooper's touchiness is extreme: a reasonable person would find my entry on him fond and respectful. The book says 14 nice things about him while offering 4 mild criticisms. Second, Dylan discographer Glen Dundas notes in the
LA City Beat that Kooper is "gravely mistaken in his claims of inaccuracies in Michael Gray's Bob Dylan Encyclopedia", and that Kooper's own recall of his sessions with Bob Dylan has been proven unreliable.

Third, other musicians featured in the book have thanked me for the accuracy of my accounts, including 1960s
Blonde On Blonde keyboardist Bill Aikins, 1970s Rolling Thunder Revue bassist Rob Stoner and 1990s Never-Ending Tour drummer Winston Watson. And while Kooper claims that Suze Rotolo called me a succession of unrepeatable names, her letter to my publisher was nothing but polite and helpful.The book has also been given favorable reviews by those less excitable than Mr Kooper, not least in the Library Journal ("amazingly well researched"), Publishers Weekly, London Evening Standard, Electric Review, The Guardian ("the scale of research is colossal"), Village Voice ("staggeringly erudite, meticulously sourced") and the Times Literary Supplement. Fanzine the Dylan Daily calls it "the most important Bob Dylan book, bar none".

It is true, as Kooper gloats, that the first printing had a very small number of errors. He cites three, none of them about himself, pulled from a work of over 850 entries totalling 750,000 words and vast numbers of facts: the work of one man. All known errors will, anyway, be corrected as the book is reprinted.

Finally, let me clarify Kooper's bizarre allusion to the e-mail exchange between him and me. Yes, he e-mailed and I replied, answering his accusations, saying that his had been the most unpleasant I'd ever received and asking if I could publish it on my blog. He ducked this challenge, telling me it was private - so I kept it to myself. Then in your paper he brags about his "vicious e-mail" having been the nastiest I'd ever received. So since he has made this public, let me make public what made his e-mail so unpleasant: he wrote that he hoped I'd die, and soon. If he really is proud of writing that, I'm embarrassed for him.

16 Comments:

Blogger maskedtortilla said...

Michael, shame that Mr Kooper is giving you this grief. I'm a big fan of your song and dance man book and have your encyclopedia on my wish list! Best wishes...

3:05 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Dear Masked Tortilla
Thank you for your support. I hope Father Christmas brings you the Encyclopedia and meanwhile I'm grateful for your message.

Best wishes
Michael

3:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

being up against the way too
emotional wrath of kooper is
not easy...
you defended yourself with dignity.
nicely done.

4:20 pm  
Anonymous AL KOOPER said...

he wrote that he hoped I'd die, and soon. If he really is proud of writing that, I'm embarrassed for him.

MIKEY - YA LEFT OUT THAT I WAS QUOTING DYLAN AND YOU MISQUOTED BOTH OF US. I DIDNT WRITE THAT- BOB DYLAN WROTE IT. SO THEREFORE I CANT BE PROUD OF WRITING IT - SO SAVE YOUR EMBARASSMENT FOR THIS:

Here's a note Suze Rotolo asked me to send you based on your Herlad retort. She DOES NOT want you to have her email address:

Subject: Gray's Atrocity
To: Michael Gray,

When dealing with "Bob Dylan Experts" I tend to be direct but polite. I felt it worked best---although biographers consider a polite refusal 'an interview', sellers of forged letters ignore me and you seem to think I was being helpful ---so maybe not.

The ' Bob Dylan Encyclopedia' is inaccurate to the point of hilarity (in my case) and also perpetuates hearsay, innuendo and slander (also in my case). But rest assured I used impolite language with close friends.

The point Al Kooper is trying to make, and I agree with 100%, is that your tome, in direct polite terms, is inaccurate, misleading and unreliable as a reference tool. Right up there with Wikipedia.

Truly,
Suze Rotolo

"The problem with history is, the folks who were there ain't talking. And
the ones who weren't there, you can't shut em up."
- Tom Waits

7:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real problem with history is that a lot of the guys who were lucky enough to be there are self-important windbags who erroneously think that their drug-addled memories are more accurate or truthful than the earnest reseach of others.

1:05 am  
Anonymous 'eliyahu ben 'avraham said...

Yes, how dare the people who were actually there think they know better than a "researcher"...

Personally, I saw enough factual errors in Song and Dance Man to make me think twice about buying a so-called encyclopedia from the same author.

10:13 am  
Anonymous Jake said...

What a horrible man Kooper is. Is quoting something nasty in a vindictive manner okay, even though it was written by Dylan in a completely different context in the early 60's? I think there is a difference between writing a 'Bob Dylan Encyclopedia' and being a 'Master of War'.

12:05 pm  
Anonymous Ben said...

There's a thread about this on the Expecting Rain Website Discussion Board.

My opinion, for what it's worth, is that both Song and Dance Man and the Encyclopedia are two of the better books written about Dylan's work. Both have opened up avenues to musical genres that I hadn't previously explored in great depth. My pre-war blues collection, for example, has grown steadily since reading them, and I've loved hearing how they connect to and inform Dylan's work throughout the years. Cheers Michael.

What is clear to me is that one of these parties has handled themselves with dignity and the other is Al Kooper. I'm just thankful that people are interested in perspectives other than 'The Gospel according to Al' (would this also be written in Caps Lock to emphasise the spiteful tone?).

12:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure everyone's been known to lie. But Id take Al Koopers' word over Mr Gray on Dylan any day.

I dont have any real qualms with Mr Gray, all I'm really saying is his encyclopedia should be a knowledge base for Dylan fans, not a styled weekly column of opinions which is how it appears to me a reader of Mr Gray. I like his work.

Mr Koopers memory may not be what it was perhaps, but the man shared the same air, the same feeling, and watched that same column of air burst through mr dylan during countless album sessions and live gigs, and where was Mr Gray? compiling his notes for his encyclopedia?

Mr Gray is secondary to all of this, inconsequential. It is his work that should speak, not the man. Mr Kooper is primary just like any other addition in the encyclopedia. What his encyclopedia should do first and foremost is pay respect to the knowledge he is privy to and deliver it in an unhindered way. This does not happen. This is the problem I have. This is why Mr Kooper is angry. Perhaps his temper overcame him. But we all know the harm journalistic errors (even if it is more fitting and respectful to call mr gray and academic)can do. They're not necessary. Mr Dylan as we all know has fallen victim to the silly misuse of a pen and paper by people with not necessarily delusions of grandeur but notions of what they think is true.

It should be fact.

If Mr Gray wishes to change the title of his book from encyclopedia i would gladly accept it and welcome his opinions and find it a good challenging read. If he wishes to keep the title encyclopedia then as far as i am concerned it is not worthy of the challenge.

6:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you've learned anything about kooper from all this, it's that he's extremely opinionated and emotional about this stuff. though much of what he remembers is essential, i'm sure, to say that he was ever feeling the same thing as dylan is ridiculous. i think even he would agree.

7:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael, I've got your book and it is excellent. I think that is is great that the entries are subjective and that you are frank about some of the weaker aspects of the Dylan cannon - anyone who buys 'Knocked Out Loaded' cannot say they weren't warned. Keep up the good work and don't worry about Al Kooper whose sense of self-importance is at odds with his relative place in music history. I don't see many others getting so het up about the book

9:43 am  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

Michael - I don't suppose that by any chance you've heard of any feedback from Bobby himself about the encylopedia? It sure would be interesting to know what he thought. (Not that he's averse to reinventing the past at times.)

9:31 pm  
Anonymous Yellow Rat Bastard said...

I thought it worth pointing out that you never address one of Mr. Kooper's main critcisms, that your work is not an "encyclopedia" if it presents your point of view. Call it something else, but not an encyclopedia. I guess "All I Know About Bob Dylan by Michael Gray" isn't as sexy a title. Mr. Kooper has every reason to be outraged since future generations are entitled to real facts in so-called fact based works, and the re-writing of history by ignorant "scholars" has grave consequences. This is not "touchiness", your dismissal of his justifiably emotional response only confirms his point--you don't really give a rat's ass about the truth and facts. There are only a few living beings who know the "facts" about these essential moments of Dvlan's career, and Kooper is one of them, like it or not. And his memory is far from faulty, but you wouldn't really know that either. But at least you have the expertise of Glen Dundas to prove up that fact. Kooper's forgotten more about Dylan in the past 5 minutes than you'll ever know. At least in the opinion of the Yellow Rat Bastard.

5:07 am  
Anonymous ben said...

I don't understand all the fuss about the title:

"Encyclopedia: a book or set of books containing articles on various topics, usually in alphabetical arrangement, covering all branches of knowledge or,less commonly, all aspects of one subject."

Isn't this what Michael has written?

All encyclopedias have opinion in them. If anyone thinks history is pure fact then they are ill-informed. Just go to any undergraduate lecture on the 'Social Construction of Knowledge' and you'd know that.

Just because the book doesn't conform to Kooper's idea of what an encyclopedia is doesn't mean it is worthless work.

If there was no opinion or subjectivity in this book then it would be a much lesser book. Rather, I think the opinion is what makes it. That's what criticism is all about, after all.

10:34 am  
Anonymous Al Kooper said...

Based on the last 13 replies, let me clarify myself. I dont know Michael Gray. Michael Gray doesnt know Bob Dylan or me. Michael Gray attacks both of us (& Ms. Rotolo) in his "encyclopedia." I dont have any delusions of self-grandeur. I was just an ambitious lucky guy who got to play with a master and I remember quite a bit in detail about those days, When Gray said that he had the support of Bill Aikin who played keyboards on Blonde on Blonde, I lost my temper again. NOONE BY THAT NAME PLAYED KEYBOARDS ON B&B!To defend himself, Gray sent me the liner notes to Blonde on Blonde. Now, nowhere in the liner notes does it mention that Paul Griffin played piano on One of Us Must Know, probably one of the greatest bits of pianoplaying I've ever heard in my life. Nor does it mention that Bobby Gregg played drums on that track along with Rick Danko on bass. So, I CHALLENGE Gray to tell me what Mr. Aikin played on B&B if he can lift his frigging research above the incorrect liner notes or the riddled discograpohy of his pal Dundas.
I am not looking to enhance my ego in ANY way here.
I am quite content with what life dealt me even if Gray criticizes my solo work as "nothing to say and no voice to say it with." As a historian, I think he has
PLENTY to say and very little valid research. Now the word valid means that you dont stop dead at the liner notes of Blonde on Blonde or what other people have written as a result of those incorrect liner notes. Just for the readers edification, Gray COULD have gotten in touch with The Nashville Musicians Union and gotten the details of each session. I know this tool and I am far from a historian by trade. THIS is the sort of thing that infuriates
me, because Gray and people like him are writing mythology, in the name of history. And on top of that, he calls his nasty, and occasionally incorrect opinions about people he has NO IDEA about encyclopedic knowledge.
That is why I will challenge this book til I die, and my death may come soon, I am riddled with diabetes.
But before I go, I wish to take all the innaccuracies to the grave with me. I also think Mr. Gray can dish it out quite venomously, but it appears, he cant take it very well.
Thanks to those who took the time to understand where I'm coming from and write in. I'm sorry that the others including Gray, misunderstand me & my motives
Have a nice day anyway
Al Kooper

7:54 pm  
Anonymous Danny said...

Dear Al,

I was unaware you were suffering with diabetes until I read your last comment. I am sure I speak for everyone who visits this website (no matter what 'side' they take in this particular debate) by saying that I hope you get well soon. We've all enjoyed your contribution to the world of music - long may it continue.

All the best mate.

Danny.

1:45 pm  

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